John Edwards' Wife Tore Off Her Shirt and Collapsed Over His Affair

John Edwards' daughter left courtroom in tears before testimony began.

ByABC News
May 2, 2012, 8:35 AM

GREENSBORO, S.C. May 2, 2012— -- John Edwards put his head in his hands and his daughter Cate left the courtroom in tears today as a former aide testified about how Edwards' wife became distraught when she found out that he was still having an affair with mistress Rielle Hunter.

Elizabeth Edwards "collapsed in a ball" in an airport parking lot and tore off her shirt in a fit of anger, the witness said.

Mrs. Edwards was dying of cancer and had previously discovered her husband's fling with Hunter, a videographer on his presidential campaign, in 2006. She had demanded Hunter be fired and the romance be ended.

Edwards, however, secretly continued the affair, which was reported in the National Enquirer in October 2007.

Christina Reynolds, a communications adviser on Edwards' campaign who was also close to Elizabeth Edwards, told the court about Mrs. Edwards reaction when her suspicions of her husband's continued infidelity were confirmed.

Before Reynolds began, Edwards said to his daughter Cate, "I don't know what is going to happen next. Do you want to leave?"

Cate Edwards, who has been her father's most visible supporter, got up and left the courtroom wiping away tears as Edwards called after her, "Cate, Cate."

The day after the Enquirer's report was published, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were en route to the Raleigh airport, but Elizabeth Edwards was pawing at her husband in the car and asking, "Is this what you two do in the car when you are together in New York City," the court was told.

Edwards stopped the car and got into another vehicle so that they arrived at the airport in separate cars.

Edwards lowered his head in his hands as Reynolds spoke.

"Elizabeth was very upset... She was very vocal," Reynolds told the court. "She stormed off and collapsed into a ball in the parking lot."

Reynolds said aides helped Mrs. Edwards to her feet and into a restroom where they tried to calm her down.

"She seemed a little calmer and then stormed out of the bathroom and tried to engage Mr. Edwards. She said to him, 'You don't see me any more,'" and tore off her shirt and bra.

"How did John Edwards react to this," the prosecutor asked.

"He didn't have much of a reaction," Reynolds said.

On cross examination, Edwards' Abbe Lowell got Reynolds to say that Mrs. Edwards was "mortified" and "humiliated."

"Her primary concern was the family... She didn't want it to become public so the kids wouldn't have to deal with it." she said.

Edwards is accused of illegally using campaign donations to keep his mistress hidden, but Lowell's questions apparently were intended to bolster the defense's argument that Edwards used the money to keep the secret from his wife, not his campaign.

If convicted, Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison.

If Edwards didn't have a strong reaction to his wife's meltdown, he had a much stronger reaction when another of his aides raised questions about his secret relationship with Hunter during Edwards' presidential campaign.

The confrontation with Josh Brumberger took place in a private room at Chicago's O'Hare Airport as Edwards and others were about to take off for a trip to China.

Brumberger said it was a "fairly emotional, heated, somewhat graphic conversation," and Brumberger looked sheepishly at Judge Catherine Eagles and the prosecutor before quoting Edwards.

"What I remember ... 'If he thought I was f***ing her, why didn't he come to me like a man and tell me to stop f***ing her," Brumberger recalled.

"He was really upset. He was red," Brumberger said.

When asked if he was fired, Brumberger replied, "That's the way I understood it. One thing was definitely clear. I was not going to China."

Brumberger's comment drew laughter from the court, which he was able to do repeatedly during the day in a change from the first eight days of the trial that has consisted of often emotional and angry testimony.

Brumberger was 27 when he was part of Edwards staff during the 2007-08 presidential campaignand recalled first meeting Edwards' girlfriend Rielle Hunter when she approached Edwards in the bar of a New York City hotel.

She soon appeared as part of the campaign staff as a videographer, and Brumberger said he looked up on the internet.

"There was a lot of sex, drugs, rock and roll and astrology," Brumberger testified. He said he told Edwards that "Miss Hunter looked a little nutty."

Soon, Hunter was making demands to be allowed at most of Edwards' events and to fly with Edwards on private jets. He noted that Edwards was carrying or wheeling her luggage.

Brumberger remembered being in the Driskell Hotel in Austin, Texas, and seeing Hunter exit an elevator wearing "what I would consider overnight apparel." The elevator did not lead to her room, but it did lead to Edwards' room, he said.

Twice Brumberger said he approached Edwards to warn him that there was a perception problem regarding Hunter. "I felt our relationship to be a bit strained after that," he testified.

When Edwards didn't change his behavior, Brumberger took his concerns to two senior campaign advisers and soon after was summoned to the O'Hare meeting with Edwards.

Brumberger also described the first meeting between Edwards and wealthy philanthropist Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, who agreed to give Edwards more than $700,000 for the coverup effort.

The money came to be known as "Bunny money" by those involved in hiding Hunter.

Brumberger said the meeting at Mellon's home in Haymarket, Va., was remarkable for the luxury.

"It was a beautiful, gigantic property, horse country, rolling hill," he said.

When they left for North Carolina, they left in Mellon's private jet and "we took off from a runway on her property," Brumberger said.

"It was the first and only time in my life I took off in an airplane from someone's front yard," he said.

Mellon liked Edwards and wanted to help him, and Andrew Young later contacted Brumberger, who was traveling with Edwards, reminding Edwards to call Mellon and wish her happy birthday.

The call was obviously successful. After the call, Brumberger sent Andrew Young an email message that read, "Bunny is still in love," which drew laughter in the courtroom.